Prior to last season, few, if any, were picking Lamar Jackson to win the 2019-20 NFL MVP award – let alone do so as the second unanimous MVP in NFL history. And yet, by the time Week 1 rolled around, Jackson instantly made it clear he was going to be in the MVP conversation.
It was the same story the prior year as well, with Patrick Mahomes taking the league by storm in his first season as a starter. With that recent history in mind, let's take a look at four dark horses that could be this year's Jackson or Mahomes.
All betting lines and odds provided via FanDuel Sportsbook.
1. Dak Prescott, QB, Dallas Cowboys (+1400)
Let's start with the highest-ranked player on this list. Dak Prescott looked like a different player in his first season under new offensive coordinator Kellen Moore. Prescott set career highs in passing yards (4,902), touchdowns (30) and yards per attempt (8.2). And it wasn't like Prescott was doing this by dinking and dunking either, as his 9.3-yard average depth of target (aDOT) was the fifth-highest mark among all qualified passers. Despite these strides, the Dallas Cowboys consistently underwhelmed, posting an 8-8 finish and missing the postseason. If Prescott can turn the increased production into wins next season under the new coaching staff, he'll certainly find himself in the thick of the MVP conversation.
2. Jimmy Garoppolo, QB, San Francisco 49ers (+2600)
It's hard to imagine the San Francisco 49ers having a better season than they did this year, but Jimmy Garoppolo surely has room to improve. And even though the recent history of Super Bowl losers hasn't been too kind (except to the New England Patriots, of course) there's reason to believe Garoppolo can make another leap. For one, this was his first season back after tearing his ACL, and players have tended to fare better in their second season back from an injury of that magnitude. This will also be Garoppolo's second full season in Kyle Shanahan's notoriously complex offense, and with a full offseason to further familiarize himself, Garoppolo could be even better in 2020-21. Just look at Matt Ryan, who had a relatively pedestrian campaign in his first season under Shanahan before winning the MVP the following year. Garoppolo is tied with his former mentor Tom Brady with the ninth-best odds, at +2600, and he could end up being an interesting value play.
3. Matthew Stafford, QB, Detroit Lions (+4400)
Before a back injury ended his season, Matthew Stafford was playing like a top-five quarterback. Stafford ranked top five in yards per attempt (8.6, No. 2 in the NFL), yards per game (312.4, No. 2), QBR (73.1, No. 4) and touchdown percentage (6.5 percent, No. 4). And he did all this while posting the second-lowest interception percentage of his career (1.7 percent) and leading the league with a 10.6 average depth of target (aDOT). Given the recent trade rumors, he's not exactly a surefire bet to be back with the Detroit Lions, but regardless of where he ends up, he'll be in the MVP conversation if he looks like he did last year. Currently tied for the 13th-best odds, Stafford is an intriguing option.
4. Drew Lock, QB, Denver Broncos (+10000)
The player with the longest odds on this list (+10000), Drew Lock impressed down the stretch last season. The first-year passer led the Denver Broncos to a 4-1 finish over his first five starts in the NFL, though his numbers weren't particularly eye-popping. Lock only had one 300-yard performance in his five starts, but the Broncos have a lot of resources to get much better in a hurry. With the ninth-most cap space in the NFL, Denver has the financial flexibility to address an offensive line that allowed the league's ninth-highest sack rate (7.5 percent), and find a reliable No. 2 WR, as no Broncos' wideout other than Courtland Sutton had more than 300 receiving yards. If Denver makes the right additions, and Lock, Sutton and Noah Fant continue to make strides, Lock could find himself in the MVP conversation far sooner than many expect.
Join FanDuel Sportsbook Today. New users get a risk-free bet up to $500. Join Now.
Max Staley is not a FanDuel employee. In addition to providing DFS gameplay advice, Max Staley also participates in DFS contests on FanDuel using his personal account, username mstaley1212. While the strategies and player selections recommended in his articles are his personal views, he may deploy different strategies and player selections when entering contests with his personal account. The views expressed in their articles are the author's alone and do not necessarily reflect the views of FanDuel.